A brief journalism career preceded his Nobel Peace Prize

It’s not every dabbler in journalism who uncovers a murder, reports the crime despite a threat to his life, then goes on to get a doctorate from Harvard and years later win the Nobel Peace Prize, like Ralph Bunche.

In this “Destination Freedom” radio episode, an editor gives a pretty typical speech:

“See here kid you’re valedictorian of your high school, but that don’t mean a thing on a newspaper… I know, I know you’ve got some fool notion about studying government and political science… Concentrate on being a good cub reporter… go around the suburbs and pick up anything your valedictorian soul regards as news… In a few years you’ll understand more about how the government really runs than all the books in the world can teach you.”

But then on a quiet road he discovers a corpse. And recognizes the vigilantes who killed the man. He tells his editor, who is afraid to handle the story. The dead man was Jewish, and the editor tells Bunche, “If I printed that they’d bust up my newspaper in no time… There’s sort of a gentleman’s agreement about things like this… Just keep your mouth shut. You’re colored; they’ll get you next.”

(Clever bit of media name-dropping. This 1949 broadcast wasn’t too long after the Academy Award winning film and radio adaptations of the book “Gentleman’s Agreement.”)

In the radio story, Bunche goes to the police, the criminals are caught and convicted. He even gets to meet the mayor, who gives him a $1,000 award from the citizens of Los Angeles to further his studies, with a heavy hint that he should become a precinct captain instead.

In the end, what did he get out of journalism?
“The newspaper job had made him more certain that he had to learn why there was one rule for the majority and another for the minority.” And on to Harvard. Or so says the radio drama.

In fact, the newspaper-reporter murder-story anecdote about Ralph Bunche in this broadcast doesn’t even appear on his Wikipedia Page, unless it was a reference to his UCLA school paper. Or maybe there’s just too much to say about his later accomplishments. Wikipedia does mention his later almost-journalistic work as an investigative researcher on Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal’s landmark study of racial dynamics in the U.S., An American Dilemma. And of course his distinguished career at the U.N., which led to that Nobel Prize in 1950.

The next time I’m at a library, I’ll do a little more looking into that murder story in more authoritative biographies. But even if some dramatic liberties were taken, it sure makes for good radio-drama!

(If the radio-episode player does not appear above, you can download the MP3 from the Internet Archive Destination Freedom collection.)

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, civil rights, historical figures. Bookmark the permalink.

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